Harvard business and medical schools unite execs, inventors to drive change

By Leslie Small

Though its roots are in halls of one of the country's most elite academic institutions, the Forum on Healthcare Innovation intends to effect real change in the industry.

Three years ago, the respective deans of the Harvard business and medical schools launched the forum to "unite leading executives, policymakers and academics in a cross-disciplinary exploration of innovative actions to improve quality, reduce costs and ultimately, increase value in the healthcare industry," according to its website.

"I guess the raison d'etre is to figure out why innovation takes so long in healthcare--not why it takes so long to develop, but why it takes so long to spread," Cara Sterling (pictured right), director of Harvard Business School's Health Care Initiative, tells FierceHealthcare. "And then what are different ways to speed that up?"

Both the business side and medical schools "bring complementary skill sets" to the venture, Sterling says, adding, "we're still experimenting with what form the collaboration would take."

Still, the forum has already produced white papers, hosted conferences and conducted healthcare executive surveys, and last year, it launched its first Health Acceleration Challenge.

Essentially, the challenge provides a platform for evidence-tested, proven innovations--"we call it a scale-up contest rather than a start-up contest," Sterling says. For the contest the forum sought innovations that impact healthcare delivery and improve value.

For the semifinalists, the forum held a conference that allowed the inventors to meet healthcare practitioners. And for the four current finalists, Sterling's cohorts wrote Harvard Business School cases about the innovations and taught these cases in the classroom.

Finally, in about a year, the forum will evaluate the four finalists to determine who has done the best job scaling up and award the winner $50,000.

The innovations involved in the challenge were spread across the value chain, from more behind-the-scenes solutions to those that were more patient-facing, Sterling says. App-based health coaching inventions "came up a lot," she says, and another invention, called iPass, helped improve handoff protocols for clinicians during shift changes. Developed by Children's Hospital Boston and five other hospitals, the invention can reduce medical errors "by a dramatic amount," Sterling says, as shift changes are often when such errors occur.

Then there's the invention called Bloodbuy, which creates an online marketplace for blood that promises to break down the traditionally local constraints on supply.

"I think that's fascinating. It's very behind the scenes, it's a pure business play, but large healthcare organizations spend tens of millions on blood every year, so it can make a big difference," Sterling says.

The innovation challenge proved to be such a productive venture that the forum will launch a second iteration of the challenge in spring 2016, she says, adding that she believes its main strength is simply to provide a public platform for innovators to share ideas.

"That's a big part of what the contest is about." 

Harvard business and medical schools unite execs, inventors to drive change